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Bitter truths of tutoring

- Bengal leads in dependence on private tuition but bottom of the pack in basics

More schoolchildren in Bengal take private tuition than in most other states but they are anything but the best when tested for basic reading and arithmetic skills, a national survey has revealed.

Although the survey by the NGO Pratham focused on schoolchildren going to government institutions in the districts, teachers say students of the top schools in Calcutta are just as dependent on private tuition.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report released in New Delhi on Thursday, 56.8 per cent of students in Class II, 73.2 per cent in Class V and 79.3 per cent in Class VIII took private tuition last year.

“The national average is far lower. Only 13.8 per cent of students in Class II, 18.8 per cent in Class V and 19.5 per cent in Class VIII attend private tuition,” said Animesh Chatterjee, who heads the Bengal unit of Pratham.

Surveyors from Pratham had visited 9,504 households in 475 villages across 16 districts of Bengal. They surveyed 12,619 children in the age group 3 to 16.

Kerala, with the highest rate of literacy in the country, was found to have the least number of students taking private tuition.

Teachers in Calcutta schools admit they are fighting a losing battle against the perception that private tuition is the route to academic success.

“We ask our boys not to take tuition. When we see children cracking up under pressure, we also speak to the parents. Two out of 10 parents agree to reduce private tuition but not do away with it. The other eight won’t even listen,” said Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys.

Some principals blame parental over-expectation for the trend.

“In pursuit of so-called academic excellence, which a section of parents measures through performance in examinations, students from some well-to-do families are sent to five-six private tutors. Their parents don’t seem bothered that dependence on private tutors from an early age will hamper their children’s future,” said Rita Chatterjee, who heads the two Apeejay schools.

As the Pratham survey proves, the trend isn’t restricted to people who can afford to spend on private tuition. Many parents cut down on personal and other expenses so that their children can go to private tutors.

Contrary to belief, those taking private tuition aren’t doing better in schools. Pratham, in fact, found a general decline in the ability of students in Bengal to read and solve basic arithmetic problems despite the support of private tutors.

“As no data on the qualification or the teaching skills of the teachers who provide private tuition is available, we cannot reach far-reaching conclusions. But there is little doubt that the private tuition industry has continuously grown in the state because of the dependence of students on learning beyond the classroom,” said an academician who did not wish to be named.

The survey data also drills holes into claims made by the Trinamul government — and the Left Front regime before it — about special measures to curb students’ dependence on private tuition.

Partha Dey, who was the school education minister in the erstwhile Left Front government, had said in 2008 that the school syllabi would be modernised so that students didn’t have to take private tuition.

An advisory body on higher education, headed by ISI professor Abhirup Sarkar, proposed in its report to education minister Bratya Basu last year that “model questions” be given to students in preparation for exams. The suggestion drew criticism, some saying it would promote mediocrity.

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